ACLU backed lawsuit results in censorship guidelines for Nevada prisons

Both sides are claiming victory in a lawsuit that pitted the American Civil Liberties Union against the Nevada Department of Prisons.

A federal injunction granted Monday in the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals in Reno guarantees prisoners access to The Prison Legal News if they meet criteria estabalished by prison officials.

The decision by Judge Howard McKibben prohibits prison operators from a "blanket exclusion" from receiving the publication, the decision states.

"This is a message to the Department of Prisons and the (Nevada) Attorney General's Office to be more responsive and more responsible about how to deal with these sorts of issues," said Gary Peck, Nevada ACLU director. "It is not enough to simply demagogue such matters by ranting about frivolous prisoner lawsuits."

The Prison Legal News boasts a national circulation of 3,500 and reports on analysis of issues in correctional institutions. It is edited by an inmate in a Washington state penitentiary.

The publication, represented by ACLU attorneys, was named as the plaintiff in the suit. They alleged that prison operators violated prisoners' free speech rights by prohibiting them from receiving the periodical.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Joe Ward handled the case and showed little objection to the suit made by The Prison Legal News. He said his office was satisfied with Judge Howard McKibben's decision.

"This would have been an easy accommodation to make outside of the courtroom," he said. "The first contact we had with this case was through this lawsuit."

In a response to the ACLU injunction request, Ward wrote that his office consents to the request, "provided they be allowed to control Prison Legal News publications and correspondence in a manner consistent with Thornburgh v. Abbott."

The Thornburgh decision, referenced in McKibben's two-page decision, allows prison operators to "properly review and appropriately censor individual issues of Prison Legal News within the guidelines set forth by the United States Supreme Court."

The injunction was brought before the court July 10.

The next step, Ward said, is to create standards for allowable censorship under U.S. Supreme Court guidelines. He also said his office is requesting a meeting to explore the possibility of recouping attorney's fees.

"We hope to sit down and see if this case can be resolved," he said. Attorneys' fees "may be the major issue."

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